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Notre Dame Football: Brian Kelly and the Irish look ahead to the Cincinnati Bearcats

Kelly goes in depth on the Bearcats and what the Irish will be up against on Saturday

Wisconsin v Notre Dame Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

On Monday, Brian Kelly met with the media to finish up questions from Notre Dame’s win over Wisconsin, and to start to look ahead to Saturday’s top ten showdown against the Cincinnati Bearcats in South Bend.

It’s all kind of an odd situation. Brian Kelly left Cincinnati for Notre Dame back in 2010, and here we are in 2021 with the Bearcats ranked slightly ahead of the Irish and favored in Saturday’s game inside Notre Dame Stadium.


Brian Kelly didn’t mince words when discussing this Bearcat team. It’s the best team the Irish have played so far this year, and likely for the rest of the season.

“Week 5, it’s Cincinnati. Great opponent, nationally ranked and deservedly so. This is a well coached football team.”

“Very talented in all phases offensively. I think you start with Desmond Ridder, the quarterback, he’s a playmaker He reminds me of the kid we went against, Perkins at Virginia, a couple years back. Very athletic, makes plays with his feet, deceptively accurate, strong arm, talented. It’s a really good quarterback and he’s got a lot of experience. He’s played a lot of football, a lot of college football, a lot of winning football. He has won a lot of football games. So, I think you start there on the offensive side of the ball. He’s surrounded with some really good players. I really like the Pierce kid. He’s Ben Skowronek in a sense. He’s tall rangy, athletic, he runs really good routes. Two outstanding tight ends that are really part of what they do. Ford is a big play guy. He had a huge run against Georgia, I think a 79-yard run, so he’s got the speed to break away from from talented players. This is a really good offense led by a veteran talented quarterback and I think we all know in college football, you start there. Veteran leadership at the quarterback position, skill players on the perimeter and they got speed at the slot, a go-to guy in Pierce, two really good possession guys at the tight end position and then a big play back. There’s enough there to really cause you some concern.”

“From a defensive standpoint, they return a lot of veterans to a defense that obviously has a new defensive coordinator but has a very, very similar scheme to what they’ve been running. Really, a lot of good depth from from a defensive structure. In the back end of the defense, probably as talented that we’re going to see. They’re going to challenge every throw. You’re going to get an assortment of different coverages. I really like Bryant at corner to the field and then Gardner into the boundary. Gardner’s long, athletic, likes to press. Two really good corners. Up front, Malik Vann is physical, plays with great leverage. Sanders, the defensive end, is 6-5 and athletic. It’s a really good defense with depth at all positions, so they can send seven or eight guys at you from a defensive standpoint in their front, which is a little bit unusual for most defenses today. Great depth there, linebacker play is excellent. I really like the way the Price kid is playing for them. Local kid out of Colerain. He’s really taken a step up. So, veteran defense, really good speed, going to challenge in the back end, they are well coached.”

“Luke has done a great job obviously at Cincinnati and they’re deserving of where they’re ranked. This is clearly, from our perspective, the best team that we played up to this point.”


Notre Dame has been known to schedule schools over the last decade with coaching ties back to the program. When assistants leave to coach elsewhere, the Irish on a handful of occasions have offered games against those new schools. Cincinnati is no different, but with the Bearcats, there’s the twist of so many coaches back and forth. Kelly talked about why Cincy is on the schedule and about his former assistant, Mike Denbrock.

“I think I’ve got games scheduled with Central Michigan as well coming up. Just wanted to give those schools an opportunity, if there was an opening on our schedule and anytime we have those negotiations, the opportunity to play Notre Dame. Usually, those schools are wanting to do that. When Jack and myself and Ron Powlus sit down to talk about openings, I just thought it would be, for me, an opportunity to give those schools that gave me an opportunity, a chance to play Notre Dame.”

“I think he’s [Mike Denbrock] done an incredible job at Cincinnati. He has maintained a high level of offense at Cincinnati. If you look at where they are, Mike has been part of that ascent. Certainly they played really good defense and Marcus Freeman has been obviously allotted for that but Mike Denbrock has done an incredible job on the offensive side of ball, as well. Maintaining that over a longer period of time, I’ve got a ton of respect for Mike. We’re great friends and we stay in constant contact, but we’re great competitors, too. He wants to beat us and I want to beat him and he wouldn’t want it any other way.”


Notre Dame has three quarterbacks that have passing touchdowns in non-garbage time this season through the first four games. Obviously, there is a growing dilemma at the position between Jack Coan, Drew Pyne, and Tyler Buchner. Kelly offered some insight into the position on Monday after declaring Coan was still the starter following the Wisconsin game.

“The quarterback situation is such, and I think I mentioned it after the game, if Jack is healthy, Jack would be our starter. But Tyler felt really good yesterday at treatment, so he declared himself feeling really good, so that that’s good for us. That allows us to get him back into the mix. We’ll see when we get on the field tomorrow. We’re not on the field today, so I really can’t give you an assessment of how [Jack] is relative to throwing the football. I think tomorrow we’ll make a decision on how he feels and how he looks. If he looks good, he’ll be our starter and Tyler Buchner will play, like we had before we went into this game, this last game. If he can’t, then Drew is ready to go and it appears that Tyler is going to be in pretty good shape to play for us. So, the two quarterback situation, it just depends on what two from that standpoint.”

“I don’t think you could ever say mobility would be a negative in that situation, right? But what’s most important is the ball has got to come out on time. So, he can’t hold on to the football. You got to be decisive. For me, within this offensive structure, the ball has to come out on time. The offensive line is under scrutiny right now and look, they have to play better. But not all that is on the offensive line. The ball has got to come out on time and there are certain situations where the ball needed to get out in a timely fashion and it didn’t. So, I would say in answering the question, that it’s more important that in shotgun, quick drop, the ball’s got to come out on time first, and then mobility second.”

“This is where he was last year [under center]. That’s how he took all of his snaps. He’s really made incredible progress. We’re really pleased. He has thrown nine touchdown passes. He’s 16th in the country in touchdown passes. He’s made an incredible transition. There’s still work to be done there and he would admit it as well, but there is a bit of a transition that he’s going through. We’ve had to shorten his drop. He’s used to taking a hitch step. He wasn’t brought up in a shotgun offense, so there is a bit of a transition.”

“He’s [Drew Pyne] pretty good at it [getting the ball out quickly]. He’s had to be good at it. That’s how he was successful. When when you recruit somebody that’s standing on the yellow pages to be 6-1, you know what I mean, you’ve got to see it and the ball’s got to come out, and he’s really good at that stuff. We knew what we had with him, that he was going to be a guy that saw it, got it out, moved through his progressions, kind of what he did on Saturday.”


Kelly also talked about both Jayson Ademilola and Justin Ademilola, Kyle Hamilton, and more. You can watch the full presser below.